French National Assembly Elections 2022 – Macron: a centrist in distress?
By RAVI MANI
Following the tight French presidential race in April of this year, all eyes have been focused on the French parliamentary election, that is, for the National Assembly (the Parliament’s lower chamber). Even though Emmanuel Macron emerged victorious in April’s presidential election, rising support for his far-right rival Marine Le Pen certainly dampened the celebrations. She won 41% of the 2nd round vote share, compared to Macron’s 58%. Although a somewhat different system, if the US under Biden’s presidency is anything to go by, a president without adequate support in the legislature faces an uphill struggle. Many voices in the French media boldly predict the advent of ‘une France ingouvernable’ (quite literally, ‘an ungovernable France’), whereby opposition parties will increasingly be able, and willing, to stymie the president’s policy proposals. The loss of a parliamentary majority for the president, then, is likely to hit hard.
So, what actually were the exact results? Well, Macron’s La République en Marche party contested the elections as part of an electoral pact with other centrist parties. Ensemble (the name of the alliance) won 245 seats, 44 short of a working majority. Electoral pacts were favoured by the left too, with the radical-left France Unbowed party joining forces with the Greens, Communists and Socialists, forming a pact called NUPES. They won 131 seats out of 577 up for grabs, quite a strong result given the general decline of the French left; the Socialist party candidate won just 1.75% of the vote. The dark horse of Sunday’s result, however, was Le Pen’s National Rally. Despite not subscribing to any shared platform like other parties, they did far better than expected, winning 89 seats in total. That is 11 times more than in 2017. The perceived success of the National Rally seems to have cleared up, for now at least, growing doubts about Le Pen’s leadership. Having led the party since 2011, she has contested three presidential elections, failing each time to encourage enough voters to trust a party that has, for most of its existence, been inseparable from the Le Pen family name.
If these results spell the start of a looming legislative gridlock for the president, then the recent news that PM Élisabeth Borne tendered her resignation to Macron has only made things worse. Whilst he was quick to reject Borne’s resignation, "so that the government can remain on task and act", leading a centrist minority government in a Parliament where radical politics –the radical left and the far-right- now have an emboldened presence will likely prove difficult.
Before considering what this might mean for the president’s policy agenda going forwards, it’s worth briefly considering just how centrist he can be seen to have been over the past five years. Previous policies including tax reforms and immigration legislation have only added to suggestions by some on the left that Macron is the ‘president of the rich’. And the far-right National Rally has long taken issue with his support for further EU integration, vowing also to take a harder line on immigration. If anything, Macron’s somewhat unique ability to simultaneously upset the left and right is somewhat proof of his broadly centrist stance across a range of issues.
France’s willingness to flirt with the extreme left and right of party politics, it seems, is higher than it has been for some decades. The success of these parties is the result of a mix of strategic electoral alliances combined with, perhaps, the perceived elitist connotations of Macron’s style of governance. References in left-wing French media to the ‘Macronie’ (referring to Macron and his close allies), for instance, are frequent. One result that gained much attention was the election of Députée (MP) Rachel Keke. Formerly working as a hotel cleaner who campaigned for better pay and working conditions, she won the seat of Macron’s former sports minister. Keke, reported to be the first cleaner to ever become a member of parliament in France, has pledged to be ‘the voice of the voiceless’ and those in ‘invisible’ manual jobs.
Centrism in France, it seems, is drowning in a sea of political binaries and left-right partisan feuds. With the potential role of kingmaker oscillating between the left and the right, it remains to be seen which will come to wield the most influence over the new Macron presidency.
Image: Flickr/ European Parliament